Samaritans telephone volunteer, Victoria Wallace, talks to the Watford Observer about her role within the charity, speaking to people about their suicidal thoughts and the need for more volunteers.

Vicky, who is 24 and from Newcastle, has worked at the Watford branch of South West Hertfordshire Samaritans for two years. She appears there once a fortnight for her shift speaking anonymously to those in distress.

The charity offers a call, text and email service, and everyone, including the trainers, are volunteers.

“It’s a long training process. It takes a good few months from expressing an initial interest to completing the training. People need to be well-prepared for any scenario because once you pick up that phone it could be anybody.”

During training, prospective employees engage in role play with trainers who base scenarios on their own experiences.

Vicky said her first phone call lasted around 20 minutes and was reasonably “unemotional”, but that some telephone calls can last over an hour. Mentors are on hand listening to a volunteers’ response offering advice on ways to direct the conversation.

“You’re there to deliver emotional support to people who are in distress. We were set up to prevent suicide, but people aren’t always suicidal when they call. One third have actively thought about suicidal plans, but two thirds aren’t necessarily thinking that way yet. It’s important to deliver that support before they reach that stage.”

"We offer a space where there is no judgement"

Vicky said volunteers receive various calls from victims of abuse, to people worried about death, poor mental health sufferers, and family issues – factors that could, in time, lead a person to more negative ideas.

Calls to the charity cannot be traced and all details are entirely confidential.

Instead, they work by a “self-determination” policy whereby people are ultimately left to make their own decisions. Special circumstances such as a child in danger or a person unable to take their own decisions could mean intervention is necessary. But again, the conversation is otherwise entirely anonymous.

“On the first day of training they ask you about the biggest decision you ever made and how many people you discussed that decision with. For me it was moving down south.

“Taking your own life is the biggest decision anyone can make and most take that decision without talking to anybody. So, if people know when they call we will send an ambulance immediately they won’t call us at all because they want to talk through this decision.

“We have to make clear: if someone is in danger we don’t know where you are, we can’t trace the call or send anyone to you.”

Samaritans will instead try to encourage the caller to contact 999, returning the power of choice back to the individual.

Speaking about her role within the charity, Vicky said: “When I moved south I was looking to take on a volunteering opportunity to meet people, and the Samaritans stood out because I was already passionate about mental health. Also, the branch was easy for me to get to.

“When you’re on the phone to a person for an hour you are walking in their shoes. You get to explore your own feelings on certain topics while getting to know others at the same time.”

Vicky said she has made lots of friends at the charity who meet up once a month and who coach one another after difficult telephone conversations.

“Volunteers don’t need to be academically talented. It’s about being human. People in dark places, they want a person to talk to, they want human contact.

“They don’t care what your qualifications are, and they often don’t want to discuss it with their families. We offer a space where there is no judgement.”

Vicky's branch currently has 128 volunteers but needs 150 by the end of the year.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with South West Hertfordshire Samaritans, visit https://www.samaritans.org/branches/samaritans-south-west-herts/volunteer-sw-herts-samaritans

If you need support and would like to discuss issues relating to suicide, call the Samaritans on 116 123 email jo@samaritans.org or write to Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, Stirling, FK8 2SA